Ful­bright Pro­gram, a win­dow on to the world

Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1946, the ed­u­ca­tional ex­change pro­gram has of­fered more than 5,000 schol­ar­ships to Greek and US ci­ti­zens

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY SAKIS IOANNIDIS

Out of the roughly 13 trop­i­cal storms that hit the At­lantic Ocean in 1955, one rocked the In­de­pen­dence ocean liner. “For about three days I was un­able to leave my cabin,” said Rita Pipinopoulou-Panour­gia, who, back then was a young stu­dent trav­el­ing to the United States on a Ful­bright Foun­da­tion schol­ar­ship. “My friends said to me: ‘Rita don’t go out. The waves are as high as Ly­ca­bet­tus.’ Thank­fully, we were for­tu­nate,” she added. In­deed, nine days later the ocean liner and the Greek Ful­bright fel­lows ar­rived in New York on Septem­ber 12, 1955.

The young woman, who had trav­eled alone on an overnight train from her na­tive Larissa in cen­tral Greece to reach the cap­i­tal in time for the foun­da­tion’s schol­ar­ship exam, ended up spend­ing a year at the Univer­sity of Kansas, where she stud­ied jour­nal­ism. She also gained in­valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence trav­el­ing to other US cities dur­ing her year abroad.

“Ful­bright broad­ened my horizons. My en­tire life be­came iden­ti­fied with the foun­da­tion, in one way or an­other,” Pipinopoulou-Panour­gia told Kathimerini.

Even­tu­ally, she ended up work­ing at the Ful­bright Foun­da­tion in Greece from 1963 to 1974, when she was forced to go on a “break” after be­ing ar­rested by the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. “My Amer­i­can col­leagues used their poor Greek to for­ward mes­sages of sol­i­dar­ity,” she re­called.

Se­na­tor J. Wil­liam Ful­bright of Arkansas, the foun­da­tion’s founder, fought for her re­lease, she noted, as she pre­sented a small, well-ar­ranged pile of cor­re­spon­dence. Nev­er­the­less, her re­fusal to col­lab­o­rate with the colonels landed her at the regime’s mil­i­tary po­lice prison, fol­lowed by a pe­riod of ex­ile on the is­land of Kythera. “I met the se­na­tor at the foun­da­tion’s 30-year an­niver­sary. He was a true phil­hel­lene,” she added.

What has de­fined the suc­cess of the Ful­bright Foun­da­tion’s Greek pro­gram?

“The idea of sta­bil­ity and cred­i­bil­ity, the fact that the foun­da­tion never stopped op­er­at­ing, not even for a day, that schol­ar­ships have been awarded ev­ery sin­gle year, even dur­ing tough times,” said Artemis Zene­tou, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ful­bright Greece.

Among a se­lec­tion of the foun­da­tion’s pub­li­ca­tions on dis­play at the main hall, one cof­fee-ta­ble book was ded­i­cated to Kythera, the is­land where Panour­gia lived in ex­ile.

“Ful­bright fel­low Christina Wil­liamson spent a year on the is­land tak­ing pho­tos. She opted to fo­cus on those who chose to stay on the is­land,” said Zene­tou as she pre­sented pho­tos by Wil­liamson hang­ing on the walls. The artist, along with fel­low Ful­brighters, is tak­ing part in the Greek pro­gram’s “Art Sup­ports Ed­u­ca­tion” ini­tia­tive, where works are sold at lower prices to those wish­ing to make dona­tions.

While brows­ing an edi­tion of the foun­da­tion’s his­tor­i­cal ar­chives in Athens and ob­serv­ing some of the names of its dis­tin­guished fel­lows – which in­clude Um­berto Eco, Javier Solana, Karo­los Koun and Gior­gos Se­feris, to name but a few – the dis­cus­sion turned to the broad­en­ing of the foun­da­tion’s col­lab­o­ra­tions with Greek and US ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, as well as the in­ter­est shown by Amer­i­can fel­lows to­ward mod­ern Greece, along­side clas­si­cal stud­ies and the hu­man­i­ties.

“You can judge a coun­try by the way it in­vests in ed­u­ca­tion,” noted Zene­tou.

Since its in­cep­tion, the Greek pro­gram has awarded more than 5,000 schol­ar­ships to Greek and Amer­i­can stu­dents, teach­ers, artists and re­searchers. In the last decade, the foun­da­tion has also de­vel­oped sev­eral in­ter­est­ing pro­grams, such as “Train the Train­ers,” which is based on the idea of fel­lows shar­ing the knowl­edge they ac­quire, as well as a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Be­naki Mu­seum, vis­its by US teach­ers in pri­mary and sec- ondary ed­u­ca­tion, aim­ing to in­tro­duce them to Greece and its cul­ture, projects with Turkey and Balkan coun­tries, and shorter pro­grams ad­dressed to PhD can­di­dates and other aca­demics.

“We are al­ways on the go. We are never com­pla­cent. We are con­stantly look­ing at how to keep up to speed and live up to the needs of the times,” she added, stress­ing the fact that even dur­ing the Greek fi­nan­cial cri­sis the pro­gram’s schol­ar­ships did not fall be­low the 50per-year mark.

Speak­ing on the on­go­ing fi­nan­cial cri- sis, James C. Wright, di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can School of Clas­si­cal Stud­ies at Athens and board mem­ber of the Ful­bright Foun­da­tion in Greece, noted that he had re­ceived yet an­other email re­gard­ing thoughts by the US Congress about re­duc­ing the ed­u­ca­tional ex­change pro­gram’s fund­ing, which is also as­sisted by pri­vate dona­tions.

“Ev­ery time this kind of email comes through, thou­sands of fel­lows across the world jump into action and start putting on the pres­sure re­gard­ing the pro­gram’s fund­ing, be­cause it is im­por­tant to main­tain Amer­ica’s cul­tural and fi­nan­cial ties with the rest of the world,” noted Wright.

A Ful­bright grant brought Wright and his fam­ily to Athens in 1985, at a time when he was an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Penn­syl­va­nia’s Bryn Mawr Col­lege. While he had vis­ited Greece be­fore, the schol­ar­ship al­lowed him to get to know the Greek way of life on a deeper level as well as strengthen ties with his Greek col­leagues.

“Per­haps I would never have be­come the di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can School of Clas­si­cal Stud­ies at Athens had I not stayed in Greece at the time. I re­mem­ber de­liv­er­ing my first sci­en­tific lec­ture in Greek that year. The re­search work I car­ried out back then [Edi­tor’s note: at the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site of Ne­mea, in the Pelo­pon­nese] con­trib­uted to my pro­mo­tion to the rank of full pro­fes­sor.”

Con­se­quently, it is not that dif­fi­cult for Wright to ar­gue in fa­vor of the ex­change pro­gram and its fur­ther development. “When I won the schol­ar­ship I was un­der the im­pres­sion that the pro­gram was mainly ori­ented to­ward aca­demic re­search and, of course, as an aca­demic, I’m in fa­vor of this. How­ever, when I came across artists, writ­ers and un­der­grad­u­ates who were also fel­lows, I re­al­ized that when you de­velop con­tacts through broader cul­tural and so­ciopo­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties you end up forg­ing closer ties, as op­posed to view­ing the pro­gram through a solely aca­demic re­search frame­work,” he noted.

Un­der­stand­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures, the val­ues and tra­di­tions of each coun­try through ed­u­ca­tion as a means of main­tain­ing world peace lay at the core of Se­na­tor Ful­bright’s ini­tia­tive for the development of a stu­dent ex­change pro­gram be­tween the US and the rest of the world in 1946. Since the first fel­lows boarded ocean lin­ers headed to the US, Europe, Africa and Asia, the foun­da­tion has granted about 360,000 fel­low­ships. Op­er­at­ing in 155 coun­tries, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is con­stantly de­vel­op­ing di­a­logue and communication among those who could be shap­ing to­mor­row’s world.

The ex­change pro­gram re­sem­bles a re­lay marathon, noted Zene­tou as she de­scribed the ex­changes of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ences be­tween fel­lows. De­spite the on­go­ing cri­sis, which is adding hur­dles, Zene­tou is op­ti­mistic both in terms of “friends rais­ing,” as she likes to re­fer to the foun­da­tion’s donors, as well as its fu­ture course.

After all, when she re­turned to Greece in 2001 as the the first woman and nonUS cit­i­zen set to take over the Greek pro­gram, she marked her re­turn by run­ning the Athens Marathon with a group of friends. She com­pleted the race with­out any prob­lems.

“It’s not a mat­ter of speed but about how you or­ga­nize your en­ergy to reach your goal,” she con­cluded.

aboard the Olympia ocean liner look at the Man­hat­tan sky­line (left). Rita Pipinopoulou-Panour­gia (right, fourth from left) ar­rives in New York in 1963.

Greek Ful­brighters

Greek Ful­brighters on the In­de­pen­dence ar­rive in the US after a nine-day jour­ney.

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